Substance Abuse

Opioid abuse has become an epidemic in Toms River. While it is not a secret to most residents, the process of getting help and what the local government is doing to address this epidemic seemed unknown to many of the listening tour and survey respondents.
Participants in the listening sessions noted:

  • “There’s a stigma around heroin abuse and suicide and no one’s talking about it.”
  • “We had to wait before the Little League team could go on the field, because there were used needles in the dugout.”
  • “For heroin abusers who do seek treatment, in-patient care options are out of the county.”


As the high school students noted:

  • “Toms River has a high rate of heroin users and guidance counselors are impossible to get into contact with. [sic]”
  • “Need to get rid of the heroin needles just sitting on the side of the road.”
It was apparent throughout all the research that Substance Abuse was a priority area for the focus of the coalition. Ocean County continues to have one of the highest number of overdose-related deaths in New Jersey. In 2015, the county had the second-highest heroin-related deaths in the state, at 157. In 2016, the county had more than 200 overdose-related deaths.18 In 2016, Toms River alone had 742 heroin/other opioid treatment admissions, or roughly 18% of the county admissions. 18 As Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement in September of 2017, “Ocean County is the epicenter of a growing opioid epidemic gripping our state, and sweeping across the country.”19

According to the New Jersey Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Substance Abuse Overview 2016 Statewide report, Ocean County had the largest number of admissions (alcohol and all drugs) in the state, with 7,244 individuals requiring professional assistance. This is 10% of the entire state’s incidents.
Based on all the research, both qualitative and quantitative, the Substance Abuse HIT is focused on the following goals:

Creating a short-term safe haven (24-72hrs) for residents who are seeking Substance Abuse treatment. There is a serious gap between the number of New Jersey residents who need addiction treatment and the capacity to deliver such treatment. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – New Jersey, as many as 41,000 adults and 9,400 adolescents demanded treatment but were turned away because there was simply not capacity in the state to treat them.20 As with the entire state, this is an enormous issue in Ocean County and the Toms River area. Many treatment programs report waiting lists in the hundreds, causing those seeking treatment to have to wait. The effects of having to wait can often times be devastating – their desire for treatment may have passed or worse off, the untreated substance use disorder patient can die or hurt themselves or others. Consequences of the treatment gap are vast. They include strain on the criminal justice system, neglect and abuse of children, burdens on employers, and overall, an enormous financial strain.

In an effort to mitigate the treatment gap in Toms River, the Substance Abuse HIT is implementing a short-term safe haven for residents to go while they are seeking treatment. Often times, patients receive medical clearance from the local hospitals but the treatment facility is unable to admit the patient for 24-72 hours. This program would set up a safe-haven for individuals to go voluntarily during that time period. These locations will be established at Toms River churches and staffed by volunteers and MHA Recovery Specialists. There will be no medical treatment at these facilities, simply a place for those with substance use disorders to wait out their treatment admittance.

Increasing Awareness and Early Intervention Resources for Youth and Parents (Target - Ages 8-11). Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 2014 to 2015 the drug overdose rate increased 19 percent for teens -- more than doubling the rate since 1999 with the most common cause being heroin.21 Prescription painkillers are typically a gateway for heroin use and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in 12 high school seniors reported having tried Vicodin for recreational use and one in 20 reported abusing OxyContin.22

In an effort to increase awareness and early intervention, the coalition will predominantly be focusing on activities for the younger sector, ages 8-11, with additional programming focused on high-school aged youth. From an awareness perspective, the group will create a social media campaign, participate in the Ocean County YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day with a variety of activities, participate in the School District’s Transitions Program for kids and parents, and work to replicate certain functions of the grant-funded Walnut Street School Prevention Specialist position within the district. For the high-school aged students, the coalition will be working with local businesses, organizations, and the school-district to plan monthly sober-night activities for youth in recovery or that are remaining sober.